Wednesday, 11 April, 2007

Alien Hexagon in Saturn

Something downright weird has been sighted twirling over the north pole of Saturn: A long-lived double hexagon formed in the clouds.

The two six-sided features — one inside the other — are in stark contrast to the hurricane-like vortex that has been observed at the ringed planet's south pole. Both poles have been imaged by NASA's orbiting Cassini spacecraft.

"We haven't seen a (geometric) feature like this anywhere else on any other planet," said Cassini scientist Kevin Baines of the NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "It's unbelievable."

The 15,000-mile-wide feature appears to be some sort of deep-seated standing wave, through which other things move without changing the wave pattern, Baines observed. It also appears to be in sync with the planet's quick 10-and-a-half-hour rotation.

Beyond that, nobody is sure what to make of it.

"It's perplexing," said Baines. "It's a bizarre pattern."

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